With the sun shining and the temps rising, many of us are compelled to rip off the layers we have been bundled in for months and feel those warm rays on our skin. And, despite knowing that the sun’s rays are damaging to our skin, many of us still view that sun-kissed glow as a sign of health. Now’s the time to perfect your self-tanner routine (or to find yourself the best spray tan tech in the city) and also to brush up on your sun safety skills. We checked in with Toronto-based dermatologist Julia Carroll to get her expert take on what we can do better when it comes to keeping our skin healthy this season.
Understand that burns are bad for your skin, but tans aren’t good for you, either. “Burns are from ultraviolet B rays and tans come from UVA. UVA doesn’t burn you, but it creates deeper damage. Skin tans as a reaction to sun exposure. It’s trying to mount a defense against damage,” says Dr. Carroll. She points out that if anything else were to cause our skin to go all brown, it would alarm us. She says it’s key to remember that both UVA and UVB can cause skin cancer and disrupt the skin in other ways including fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation.
Quit using vitamin D as an excuse to tan. If making sure you get vitamin D is important to you, get it through supplementation, says Dr. Carroll. “Science has shown that you get enough vitamin D from the backs of your hands through casual sun exposure through the day, say, walking from your car to your office,” she adds.
Be thorough when applying your sunscreen. “The biggest mistake I think people make is skipping certain areas when applying their SPF. I see a lot of skin cancer damage around the hairline, the front of the ear, the sides of the neck, and the chest area,” says Dr. Carroll. “Either people sweat or they don’t want to apply sunscreen close to their hair, for example, and they also tend to neglect the chest area; start applying at your forehead and go down to your breast area.”
And don’t just do half the job: if you’re bothering to apply sunscreen in the morning, follow through with your sun safety and reapply every couple of hours, and after swimming or sweating.
If using a spray, apply it by spraying it into your hands. Sprays are convenient but Dr. Carroll suggests using a sunscreen lotion in the morning. “Apply a sunscreen lotion in the morning after a shower when you’re naked and can get it into all the nooks and crannies,” she says, Then, since sprays are easier to use on the go, use that throughout the day if that’s your preferred format, but make sure to apply it by spraying it into your palms and rubbing it into your skin rather than spray it on your body. This way you can be more confident you’re not leaving any areas of skin unprotected by SPF, says Dr. Carroll.
Consider taking an oral antioxidant supplement to your sun protection toolkit. “Although it’s not new, evidence has become stronger that an oral medication called Heliocare can help protect you from ultraviolet rays,” says Dr. Carroll. She recommends it for patients who have sun-induced exacerbated conditions such as rosacea or melasma, and for those who get rashes when experiencing a drastic change in sun exposure. Heliocare is an over-the-counter antioxidant product that doesn’t replace wearing sunscreen but it can be helpful in combination with wearing SPF for people who suffer those conditions, or if you are fair-skinned, she says.